Towards Progressive Politics in the Middle East

Abbas Shahrabi Farahani & Gilbert Achar
Problematica/New Politics

Abbas Shahrabi: How do you define “Left” and “Leftist Politics”? What are the main theoretical elements of a leftist politics?

Gilbert Achcar: Well, I think properly understood “progressive” politics – let me use the term “progressive” rather than “left” here – is one that upholds the whole set of the values that define modernity and historical progress since the revolutions in the eighteenth century with an emphasis on the key value of social justice and equality. So, I would define as left-wing or progressive politics any politics that truly sticks to this full range of values.

AS: What about leftist politics or as you said progressive politics in the Middle East? How can we reconstruct the Left in the Middle East and North Africa according to the values you mentioned?

GA: I reject the view that the Middle East or Muslim countries must have different values. The values I mentioned are universal human values and rights that should be upheld everywhere. They actually include separation of religion from state: freedom and democracy require this separation, because no state that is based on religion, no state that claims to be inspired by divine scriptures, can be free and democratic, since religious institutions will want to impose what they see as their interpretation of the rule of God’s law, instead of the rule of democratic human-made law. So, likewise you have a whole range of emancipatory issues related to separating religion from state. One of them is women’s emancipation, which is a major component of any truly progressive program anywhere – and the Middle East is no exception. On the contrary, it is actually one of the most important issues in the Middle East, because the region is so backward from that angle. We are far behind most of the world when it comes to women’s emancipation. Likewise, of course, the rights of all the oppressed groups in society, including national, ethnic, and gender groups, are a crucial component of progressive politics. Progressive politics should be dedicated to the full emancipation of human beings, men and women, as well as social justice and equality.

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